St. Louis Cardinals
Right now the Cardinals have a 2.5 game lead for the 2nd wildcard spot but are only 1.5 games behind the braves for home field in the Wildcard game and 6 back on the Reds in the NL Central. This is a team that one, has done this before, and two, can score runs in bunches (just ask the Astros and Reds). Now the Reds have a fairly good sized cushion and with former MVP Joey Votto coming back, they really shouldn't be all that concerned, but the Cardinals did just take 2 of 3 (those 2 wins coming in convincing fashion) from them at Great American Ballpark where the Reds have had the best home record in baseball. The Cardinals Pitching staff is finally figuring out the issues that have plagued it this season, and Adam Wainwright is returning to his old Cy Young Contender self to go along with a very underappreciated Kyle Lohse to lead the rotation. A call to the bullpen is no longer a point of stress for Cardinals Nation, and the line up is getting hot at the right time.
Like I said, the Reds have a nice cushion and the Braves, even if passed by the Cardinals, would still be in the playoffs, but both of these teams are probably... we'll call it aware... of what the Cardinals are doing these days
The Nationals have been one of the best teams all year, but as soon as they shut down Stephen Strassburg... their pitching staff becomes just a little worse. That's not a shot at the Nationals staff, because they are still a strong team, but when the Nats are trying to hold off a good Braves team... it becomes a little harder without him. Statistically speaking, the Braves are not the offensive goliath that the Cardinals have proven to be, likewise their pitching numbers are not in the top 5 in the MLB either. This is an experienced team, and a talented team that at points last year threatened to take the NL East from the Phillies before their epic collapse. The scary thing is this team hasn't changed much since last year. There is still a lot of talent, and memories from last year. With Chipper on his way out after this season, you know he will be willing this team to another playoff appearance, and if the Nationals stumble, the Braves should be right there to take the NL East crown from them.
Los Angles Dodgers
The Dodgers have been flirting with the playoffs all year. A rough middle of the season has seen them fall behind the Giants after dominating in the first couple months. The Dodgers trail both the Cardinals and the Giants for playoff spots and just made one of the biggest deals (financially and otherwise) baseball has ever seen. When a team adds an MVP caliber first baseball, and a guy who has pitched in 2 world series... this team just became more dangerous. Now I know Beckett isn't what he used to be, but if he regains just a little of the magic he had a couple of years ago, and if Adrian Gonzalez hits like he always has... there are some teams that should at least be a little nervous, because this Dodger team was dangerous before... and they just got better.
The Pirates and D'back both have playoff potential but don't look to threaten as much as the teams above at this point. The pirates are sinking... fast (pardon the pun) they have battled hard all year, and still have a good shot at ending the seemingly never ending streak of losing seasons, but they have lost 12 out of their last 18, McCutchen is slumping and the pitching staff that was holding them together in April is struggling to get anyone out. If the Pirates can right the ship (sorry couldn't help it) this is a team that is still dangerous, but with their next two games against the Cardinals, if they don't figure things out quickly... the lead that opens up may be too big. Similarly with the Diamondbacks, this is a team that was a playoff team last year. The talent is there, but the gap is not getting any smaller, this team needs to get back on track right now or they realistically will just hope to spoil someone elses playoff run.
This last month of the season has potential to be very exciting and go right down to the wire again, lets hope it doesn't disappoint.
Thanks for reading
T.O. signing off